In keeping with the theme of giving during the holiday season, Vans Cars & Trucks in Brooksville paid it forward again this year with a vehicle to a recipient in need. But this time, the gesture was directed toward a whole organization, created to assist single mothers with their children, and therefore became a gift for many.Larry VanFossen, owner of Vans Cars & Trucks in Brooksville on South Broad Street, said it is important that his business continue the tradition of giving, which began that very first year his doors opened more than 25 years ago.
“It started with holiday gift baskets for our customers we felt were most in need,” VanFossen said. In later years they collected more than 50 bicycles they “rehabbed” and gave away to needy children.
Last year, the Christmas Car Giveaway was launched, an idea that was first suggested by Van Fossen’s 15-year senior employee, James Holbrook.
“We took a ‘nothing special’ but otherwise sound car and set it up with as much new as we could, with new tires, new brakes, new battery, new belts and hoses, oil change, paint, interior rehab and all else until we had a very respectable vehicle,” VanFossen said.
Entries came from across the community, describing how the car would impact their lives.
“The winner was a hard-working single mom that was moving ahead with her life,” VanFossen said. “The car made a huge difference for her.”
And there were others equally heart-felt, giving VanFossen a glimpse of how big the need really was in his own community.
One of last year’s applicants lingered in VanFossen’s mind all year, he said. “It stood out as different,” he recalled.
He later met the source of that entry, Kit Raymond, from The Life Center in Brooksville. The organization provides services, including shelter and food, for local single mothers and their children.
The Life Center was envisioned in 2001 and designated a 501(c)3 in 2002. The not for profit organization is dependent on volunteers and has helped rehabilitate thousands of local moms and their children.
“Kit Raymond from The Life Center told us how their need of a vehicle was an effort they had not yet been able to accomplish in order to serve the many single moms that their services benefited,” VanFossen said.
“We can only imagine how it is to have a family with all the necessary commitments and have really no way to get them (to doctors appointments) other than walk, perhaps catch a bus if available, or beg friends or acquaintances.”
VanFossen’s commitment to assist with the resources he had available in a vehicle became the driving force behind this year’s pay it forward contribution. “I knew a vehicle was too major an undertaking for an organization already providing living quarters and life skills to an ever-changing group of single moms with children,” he said.
Then VanFossen attended a board meeting and discussed plans with the founder, Barbara Lemoine.
“The plan was to have a serviceable vehicle and have it ready for the holiday timeframe,” he said.
In the interim, The Life Center was awarded a community service grant for $3000 to use toward the purchase of a vehicle. With Vans Cars & Trucks already committed to the project, the grant money would only enhance the giveaway. The end result was even bigger than initially planned.
“We ended up with an ‘09 Honda Odyssey with good miles and an update of new tires, brakes, hoses, belts, oil change, as well as a few needed repairs, both mechanical and cosmetic,” VanFossen explained.
But it was a collaborated effort, he said. Other local businesses that contributed to the project included Anything Automotive, Sheley & Sons Auto Repair, and Tire & Auto Connection.
“Our employees got on board with this project in so many ways,” VanFossen said. Vans Cars & Trucks even took care of the cost of title and registration.
“We were very honored that we could play a part in putting this together for the benefit of a very worthy local non-profit,” he added. “TLC, along with a plethora of other local non-profits and organizations, businesses and individuals, all come together for the common good. This is what I consider the definition of community.”